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Now She Dances!
by Doric Wilson
May 2007, revised June 1, 2007

“A subtle scrutiny of homophobia, Doric Wilson’s ‘Now She Dances!’ begins on an empty stage where characters from ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ act out ‘Salome,’ in a nightmare metaphor for the trial of Oscar Wilde.” - John Devere, Mandate Magazine, 1979

Sally Eaton
from the 1976, TOSOS, NYC production
photo: Jack Logan  
Around the time “And He Made a Her” showcased at the Cherry Lane theater (1961), I was arrested for sexual (I was innocent) whatever. The producer Richard Barr bailed me out of jail and I ran to the safety of the Caffe Cino, sat at a table and wrote (just like in the movies) “Now She Dances!” (I should have dedicated it to the cop who entrapped me, and who, years later, encountered me in a leather bar, leered, and suggested maybe he and I might … but that’s another scene, in another play.)

“Now She Dances!” began as a response to the hilarious histrionics and fruity language of Lord Douglas’ translation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome. Written with overwhelming earnestness in no-doubt equally florid French, Wilde’s play has become a touchstone for decadence, equating lavender eau de cologne and slavering smears of silver eye shadow with degeneracy.

I decided to rewrite it as “The Importance of Being Salome.” (Richard Barr found the right title in one of the last lines of the play.) The resulting play became an angry, ironic, nightmare metaphor for the trial of Oscar Wilde (the quintessential closet queen, it was Wilde’s determination to establish his heterosexuality in court which lead to his fatal second trial.)

The Cino cast of “Now She Dances!” was headed by the ever articulate Tom Lawrence (Lane), with zany Zita Jenner (Lady Herodias), and the so very beautiful Lucrezia Simmons (Miss Salome) and Joe Cino’s favorite actress, Jane Lowry (Gladys). If you were there, you still remember her doing the soup speech.

The one-act Cino play was extended into a two-act version for the Playbox in the East Village in the late 60s. On the way to the first rehearsal, Jane Lowry and Sloane Shelton traded roles on the 10th St. cross-town bus, the way bobbysoxers used to switch sweaters. Opening night, the actor playing Bill, flying high on psychedelic drugs, was too busy watching all the pretty lights to bother coming on stage for his entrance. A happier memory was Berrilla Kerr swathed in yards of scarlet swishing satin, slipping away from dinner “unnoticed.”

In 1976, “Now She Dances!” was rewritten once again for TOSOS. Druid high priestess Sally Eaton (from the cast of Hair), and later Caroline Yeager, gave harrowing and searing performances in brilliant and totally different interpretations of Miss Salome. Glamorous Mary Portser, forever juvenile Dale Carman, Machiavellian Michael O’Brien, jaunty John Michel, matinee idol John Murphy (and later the towering Brian Benben), mischief making Marianne Leone, and Greg (the hottest man I ever saw) Michaels kept Salome dancing for nearly a year in the Church St. basement home of TOSOS.

The play was again thrown into the rewrite mill where it ground round and round until Steve Bottoms convinced Larry Johnson to convince me to finish it (a debt still waiting payment). The new (and hopefully final version) premiered in Glasgow, Scotland in the winter of 2000 with Steve Bottoms directing. For the first time, “Now She Dances!” was played in tandem with Oscar Wilde’s “Salome.” The cast was doubled, and the actress cast as Salome also assayed “Miss Salome.” (I suggested a gender switch, the Herod from the Wilde in drag as Lady Herodias; Herodias to beard up to play Sir Herod, but nobody ever listens to me.)

TOSOS II presented the American premiere with a number of staged readings directed by Mark Finley in 2003-4, cumulating with a special performance for the Oscar Wilde Society of America in commemoration of Wilde’s 150th birthday. In November 2006, To Do Productions gave Miss Salome (a sultry and sensational Bridget Erin) her long awaited return to the American stage when they presented the play at the Marigny Theater in New Orleans.

A complex and difficult play, even the levels have levels. For all its insanity and layered complexity it is my most fiercely autobiographical play. Painfully private and highly sensitive details of my youth are shattered, stitched back together and scattered liberally throughout the play. No, they are not the ones you think they are.

Audiences generally seem to have no problem with the play’s complexity, gleefully enjoying it moment to moment. On the other hand, many academics and most of the gay intelligentsia tend to loath it. Perhaps the character of Lane hits too close to home?

The play is published in an excellent edition by United Stages and is included in Steve Susoyev and George Birimisa’s anthology, “Return to the Caffe Cino.”

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